Laws over senior care centers blurredOn a warm evening in early August, 40 Yongsan District residents gathered in central Seoul to protest the move of an adult day care center into a business-purpose five-story studio apartment complex the previous month.
“The alley is so small that an ambulance can hardly drive through,” said a man surnamed Jung, who was leading the demonstrators.
“What if a fire breaks out in the building, like at the Jangseong nursing home?” he added, referencing a blaze in May at a long-term chronic care hospital in Jangseong County, South Jeolla, where many elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other chronic conditions lived.
The fire was started by an 81-year-old patient who suffered from dementia and left 21 people dead.
“Yongsan District Office approved the move-in without the consent of residents,” Jung continued, addressing the group through a loudspeaker.
Their demonstration on Aug. 10 preceded a petition 16 days later that district residents turned in to the district office’s senior welfare department - a document signed by 820 of them.
The office was swayed, and the following day, officials rejected the adult day care center’s registration for operation. “Our center mainly cares for elderly people with mild dementia during the daytime,” said Lee Seon-hee, a representative for the day care center, “but the residents are misunderstanding it as an abhorrent facility.”
The adult day care center offers health support, Alzheimer’s prevention services and daily living needs for seniors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to Statistics Korea, the number of people aged 65 and older increased in 2013 to 1.08 million, up from 899,000 in 2009.
Reflecting the expansion in the elderly population, senior welfare facilities have ballooned, to 72,680 in 2013 from 66,854 in 2009, according to the office of Rep. In Jae-keun, a member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy who also sits on the parliamentary Health and Welfare Committee.
Amid this phenomenon, six communities in Seoul have experienced conflicts between residents and senior welfare facilities representatives over the establishment of senior welfare facilities in multi-unit dwellings like apartments or villas.
In Seoul, 585 senior welfare facilities were set up between 2009 and 2013. Of those, 311 adult day care centers, or 53 percent, were located in multi-unit dwellings.
Dobong District, northeastern Seoul, experienced a similar situation. When a day care center opened in a villa there in May, local residents reportedly shut down the building’s elevators and blocked others from coming in or out of the parking lot. A representative of the senior welfare center in the district, surnamed Kang, accused the residents of obstructing business.
Those in opposition to senior welfare facilities opening in their housing complexes mostly worry that the presence of those facilities would depreciate housing prices and have a negative influence on their businesses.
“When the senior day care center moved into the villa, people stopped coming to see the house,” said one Dobong district resident surnamed Park.
Still, current laws regarding the matter have only confounded the situation and added to the confusion. Depending on the acts cited, there are different regulations on the legality of senior welfare facilities being housed in a multi-unit residential dwelling.
Article 55 of the Aged Welfare Act states that senior welfare facilities can be built in a multiunit dwelling as long as it is reported to the head of the local government, while Article 5 of the Aggregate Building Act declares that multi-unit dwellings cannot be used for purposes other than residential occupancies without residents’ consent.
“Parliament is considering a revision of these laws so that the Aged Welfare Act and the Aggregate Building Act don’t conflict,” In said.
BY JANG HYEOK-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]